Beirut: Foreign Sunni jihadists are fighting
alongside Syrian rebels who have taken on President Bashar
al-Assad, but their numbers are hard to assess and almost
certainly small, insurgents and analysts say.
A correspondent who met several Syrian rebels over a
week in the city of Homs, which was recaptured by regime
forces on Thursday, said he sometimes saw them mingling with
strangers of the same beliefs.
"Five Libyans fought with us in Homs. They were all
killed," said a leader of a group from the rebel Free Syrian
Army (FSA), which clashed with regime forces in Homs.
However, while denying that there are many foreigners
battling Syrian forces, he said "there are a few, of different
nationalities. But we are mostly Syrians."
While the numbers are difficult to pin down, one
international expert said that, in a violence-wracked country,
the possibility of foreign fighters participating in a
rebellion always exist.
"In a country where chaos sets in, it goes without saying
that space is created for foreign volunteers" but their role
"will remain paltry unless the Syrian fighters see value in
their presence," said Peter Harling, from the International
In mid-February, an observer with the Arab League in Homs
told that "many foreign fighters," including Pakistanis,
Afghans, Lebanese, Iraqis, Sudanese, Libyans and Yemenis led
most of the fighting and "dominated everybody."
Harling dismissed that as fantasy.
"It is a product of his imagination. I do not see how
foreigners at this stage of the conflict would impose
anything" on the Syrians and "I do not believe that they are
Harling`s views were echoed by Karim Emilie Bitar from
the French Institute of International and Strategic Relations.
The proportion of foreigners "is probably very slim,"
said Bitar, while warning that it was "likely to grow now that
Qatar and Saudi Arabia have openly announced that they favour
militarisation of the Syrian revolution."
He said some foreign fighters were "members of al-Qaeda,
who responded to the call by Ayman Al-Zawahiri (the leader of
the group), who has openly encouraged them to lead the fight
"Most of these previously fought in Iraq. Other jihadists
are more or less independents, from Libya or elsewhere, who
were mobilised by images from Syria," he said.
The group leader from the Free Syrian Army denies
al-Qaeda has any role in the Syrian revolution.
"Al-Qaeda has nothing to do with us. Al-Qaeda does not
interest us," he said.
The arming of the Syrian rebels as encouraged by Qatar
and Saudi Arabia is being intensely discussed in Arab and
Western spheres, but Washington is reluctant, fearing that
weapons may land in the hands of al-Qaeda.
Western fears were further aggravated after Iraqi Prime
Minister Nuri al-Maliki recently said al-Qaeda militants, who
are well established in his country, had started to move to